George Harrison’s self-titled eighth studio album was written and recorded in 1978, and released the following year.
Harrison took a year off following the release of 1976’s Thirty Three & ⅓. He holidayed in Hawaii, lived a quiet life at his Friar Park home, and attended many of the 1977 Formula 1 world championship races. His passion for motor racing inspired the song ‘Faster’ on the album.
In music terms I sort of skived for 1977. I went on strike. I just went to the races, actually, to the motor racing. I was just really getting a bit fed up with the music business to tell you the truth. I mean it had been a long time being in it and, you know, I just felt like a break. So I took 1977 away from music, and I didn’t actually write a tune during that year. I just sort of forgot all about music, went to the races, and then at the end of ’77 I thought, ‘God, I better start doing something.’ I heard all these stories about people drying up, you know, so I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll write a tune, see if I can just write a tune.’ And I wrote ‘Blow Away’. It was a miserable day, pouring with rain, and we were having a few leaks in the roof of the house and all that sort of stuff.
Roundtable, BBC Radio 1
Harrison’s divorce from Pattie Boyd came through on 9 June 1977, and he had planned to marry Olivia the following May. The wedding was postponed due to Harrison’s father Harold’s death from cancer that month. George and Olivia eventually married on 2 September 1978, one month after the birth of their son Dhani.
I wasn’t ready to join Alcoholics Anonymous or anything – I don’t think I was that far gone – but I could put back a bottle of brandy occasionally, plus all the other naughty things that fly around. I just went on a binge, went on the road… all that sort of thing, until it got to the point where I had no voice and almost no body at times. Then I met Olivia and it all worked out fine. There’s a song on the new album, ‘Dark Sweet Lady’: “You came and helped me through/When I’d let go/You came from out the blue/Never have known what I’d done without you.” That sums it up.
The music industry was a time of flux, and Harrison was not well suited to the changes. The nihilism of punk rock was sweeping across much of the UK, while in America and elsewhere disco was hitting the mainstream. Harrison was increasingly sounding like a man out of time.
I listen to Clapton, Elton John, Bob Dylan, those sort of people. I couldn’t stand punk rock; it never did anything for me at all… As far as musicianship goes, the punk bands were just rubbish – no finesse in the drumming, just a lot of noise and nothing.
Harrison spent time in Hawaii towards the end of 1977 and early 1978, writing and relaxing. He found the islands inspiring and helped kick start his creativity once again, and in January 1978 he travelled to Los Angeles to play demos of his new songs to Warner Bros.
I went to Warners in Burbank and spoke to the three staff producers there – Ted Templeman, Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman. And I played them some demos of the tunes I’d written and said, “Come on, you guys, give me a clue. Tell me what songs you’ve liked in the past, what songs you didn’t like; give me a few ideas of what you think.” And they didn’t know what to say. Templeman said he had liked ‘Deep Blue’, the B side of the ‘Bangla Desh’ single, which is a bit obscure – so I went home and wrote a song with a similar sort of chord structure to that, ‘Soft-Hearted Hana’. But in the end I decided I’d work with Russ Titelman. He did the first Little Feat album and, with Lenny Waronker, he’s coproduced Randy Newman, James Taylor and Ry Cooder – he’s Ry Cooder’s brother-in-law, in fact. And he’s a nice, easy person to get along with, which is more important than the person’s musical taste, because you spend five months together – you’ve got to like each other a bit. He helped me decide what sort of tunes to use, encouraged me to actually finish certain songs, and helped actually lay the tracks down. It’s hard for an artist to be in the booth and in the studio.
Keen to update his sound to reflect the changing musical landscape, Harrison agreed to work with a co-producer for the first time since Phil Spector in the early 1970s. Warners executive Mo Ostin recommended Russ Titelman, who had previously worked with Randy Newman, James Taylor, and Ry Cooder.
Yes, he did need a push sometimes. He lived in his own world, and I think he knew that too. He had the demos and he invited me over to his house in Benedict Canyon to listen. ‘Blow Away’ was on there and it sounded like a hit, and ‘Love Comes To Everyone’, which seemed like a pop record. ‘Faster’ and ‘Not Guilty’. He had just the guitar part to ‘Your Love Is Forever’, no vocal, no lyric, but I was floored by it. I just thought it was the most beautiful thing, and I said, ‘Look, you have to finish this song, we need this song for the record, so please write a lyric.’ And he did.
Behind The Locked Door, Graeme Thomson
Harrison returned to Hawaii for two months, to write new songs and finish off his earlier compositions. The lyrics to ‘Soft-Hearted Hana’ were inspired by a magic mushroom trip Harrison took with local restaurateur Bob Longhi. Another song, ‘Here Comes The Moon’, was written with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks.
We were writing a sort of parody of ‘Here Comes The Sun’. Longhi was saying, ‘You guys are writing about the moon instead of the sun,’ and I said, ‘That’s because by then we were all such night birds.’ We just hung out and wrote and sang and talked. I had been famous for not even quite three years and we were talking with George about being famous and what it meant and what you had to give up.
Behind The Locked Door, Graeme Thomson
‘Not Guilty’ was the oldest song on George Harrison. It was written in 1968 about Harrison’s frustration at being overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney. It was originally recorded for the White Album but shelved until 1996’s Anthology 3.
It wasn’t Harrison’s only instance of looking backwards. In 1978 Derek Taylor, then vice president of marketing for Warner Bros, began interviewing him on tape for I Me Mine, Harrison’s autobiography. Taylor left Warners that year, and their conversations resumed when both men were settled back in England.